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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Meet your vendors

At the main entrance of Viking Union, lines form during the lunch rush.

Passersby are greeted with smells of pineapple chicken, asada burritos and the spice from different curries.

Students and faculty can choose from QQ Li’s Chinese Cuisine, The Burrito King and India Grill.

Just outside the doors of VU, you can find the vendor India Grill.

Before owner Santok Tumber opened India Grill at Vendors Row, he opened his restaurant on Cornwall Avenue in 1996. Tumber opened up a vendor location about six years ago, partially because of requests to do so.

“It’s not about the money for me. I like the people. I like to help the kids. I like to serve my professor buddies.”

Santok Tumber, owner of India Grill

“We have a lot of faculty and professors from the university come in all the time since we opened the restaurant,” Tumber said.  “They asked me if I can go [to campus] and serve them a small lunch plate, so that’s what I did.”

One of the most popular dishes among students and staff is butter chicken.         

“Sometimes people [already] have curry and they want a little bit of butter chicken. I just add it,” Tumber said.

Tumber enjoys talking to the students and helping them out when he can.

“It’s not about the money for me,” Tumber said. “I like the people. I like to help the kids. I like to serve my professor buddies.”

Students grab lunch at vendors row, Wednesday, April 5. // Photo by Jonathan Pendleton

Tumber was a college student himself and said he understands students struggle with affording food. He gives discounts to students to help them out, or if they can’t pay the full menu price he’s willing to serve them anyways and take whatever they can pay.

“Sometimes they come to the restaurant, a group of 15 or 20. They tell me, ‘This is what we can spend.’ Whatever they want to spend, I give them the food,” Tumber said.

Tumber used to work at the vendor location regularly. Lately, Tumber’s son and wife have been working there. When the summer season comes around, Tumber may return and have regular shifts at the vendor location.

“I was the one who was always there,” Tumber said. “My son and wife help me now. They want to take charge there.”

The vendor furthest from VU is QQ Li’s Chinese Cuisine. The owner, QQ Chen, began vending at Western in 2006. Two years later, Chen opened her own restaurant in Bellingham. Chen spends most of her time at the vendor’s row location.

“I spend all day [at vendor’s row],” Chen said. “I work at the restaurant only a little bit. Maybe a couple nights a week, that’s it.”

Chen’s most popular items on her menu are the pineapple chicken and General Tso’s chicken. They sell out daily. She has one of her employees resupply her vendor’s row stall when she runs out. Chen’s bubble tea is also popular.

Working inside a restaurant can be boring, Chen said. She prefers to be outside working at her vendor location because she likes to see the people on campus.  

“I love to work here. I can have more conversations with the people,” Chen said. “I see my friends here too.”

When the lunch rush gets hectic, Chen has someone help make the bubble tea while she handles the food orders.

In between India Grill and QQ Li’s Chinese Cuisine is The Burrito King.

Luisa Avila has been working at the vendor location for two years and said the most popular items are the asada burrito and the chicken burrito.

Like Chen, Avila’s favorite part of working at the vendor location is having conversations with customers and being outside.

“I like getting to talk to the customers and being in the environment,” Avila said.

The most challenging part of working on vendor’s row for Avila is the busy lunch hours.

When The Burrito King is low on ingredients, the owner, Ruben DeLagarza, will drop some off. DeLagarza is not hard to miss because he drives a Hummer with the picture of a giant donkey, The Burrito King logo, on the vehicle.

The Burrito King plans on opening a second Bellingham location on Sunset Drive, Avila said.

The vendors are open Monday through Friday to hungry students and staff.

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